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5-4 Supreme Court drama clears way for Bush presidency, Gore concession

WASHINGTON (BP)–George W. Bush seems headed for the White House Dec. 13 as its 43rd occupant after Al Gore lost his case before the U.S. Supreme Court the night before. Gore will withdraw from the presidential race, according to high-ranking aides to the vice president.

The move comes hours after the nation’s highest court all but assured Bush the presidency Dec. 12 by reversing, in a 5-4 vote, a Florida Supreme Court decision that had ordered a recount of tens of thousands of disputed ballots.

In a written statement this morning, Gore’s campaign chairman, William Daley, said the committee overseeing recount efforts on Gore’s behalf in Florida was being suspended and that Gore would address the nation this evening. In that speech, expected to be about 10 minutes long, Gore will withdraw from the race, ABC News has reported.

More than five weeks after the fierce post-election battle began, Gore will try to bring closure to the race by bowing out and recognizing Bush as the next president, according to senior aides. Although he will urge the country to unite behind the governor and respect the Supreme Court ruling, aides said, the vice president also will make clear his discontent with the court’s decision.

Gore’s address will come almost 24 hours after a deeply divided Supreme Court, just two hours before a federal deadline for certifying presidential electors, voted to overturn a Florida Supreme Court decision that had ordered the state’s 67 counties to recount ballots that did not register votes on election day, saying the state court violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described the Supreme Court decision as “the correct one, that you can’t have votes being counted by different standards in different counties and even [at] different tables in the same canvassing board recount.”

“Clearly, you have a very closely divided court, but that’s not news to anyone who follows the court,” Land noted. “Look at the Boy Scout decision. Look at the partial-birth abortion decision. There were approximately 50 decisions in this last cycle of the Supreme Court that were 5-4 decisions. This just happens to be a particularly high-profile one. But it just reveals there are enormous differences” in the court.

In its last term, the high court voted 5-4 to uphold the Boy Scouts of America’s right to prohibit homosexuals from being troop leaders but also decided in a 5-4 split to reject a state ban on partial-birth abortion.

Seven justices said they “had constitutional problems” with the varying standards used to judge votes in different counties. But only a bare majority of five justices wanted the recounts to stop, while Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter said the counts should keep going until Monday, Dec. 18, under a uniform statewide standard.

The high court did send the case back to the state level for further review. But any further action by the Florida Supreme Court couldn’t affect the election. The high court’s majority said recounts had to be completed by Tuesday, a deadline that has already passed.

“Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional … we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed,” the majority opinion said.

The ruling, handed down shortly after 10 p.m. Dec. 12, seems to have put an end to this extraordinary, five-week presidential election dispute, clearing the way for Bush to make his transition to the White House in January.

At least three justices strongly agreed with arguments made by Bush’s legal team that the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds and violated both federal law and the Constitution when it reinstated on Dec. 8 the hand recounts of ballots initially rejected by machines.

Bush aides said the Texas governor would wait a short but decent interval to see Gore’s first move before the man they view as president-elect would address the nation. But in a subdued comment from former Secretary of State James Baker, the Bush adviser said the Texas governor and his running mate, Dick Cheney, were pleased with the decision.

“This has been a long and arduous process for everyone involved — on both sides,” Baker said in brief comments to reporters.

Although seven Supreme Court justices agreed there were constitutional problems with the recount, they disagreed on a remedy. All in all, six opinions were issued by various justices, showing the range of thought on the court.

“It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work,” the court’s five-justice majority opinion said.

But the court said because Florida lawmakers intended in effect to complete the choosing of electors by Dec. 12 an order requiring a new recount “could not be part of an appropriate” remedy.

Land noted “the one thing we must do [after the election turmoil] is we must come together in a bipartisan effort I hope will be led by President-elect Bush to have a national reform of our electoral system, so that we can guarantee that the nation will not be faced with this kind of crisis again, that we will not be faced with having the breakdown of the mechanics of counting the votes and counting the votes the same way within each state.”

“We don’t insist on perfect elections in this country, but we must have fair elections,” Land said. “And a fair election is an election where people have an equal opportunity to vote and the votes are going to be counted and they’re going to be evaluated in the same way. And evidently we have some work to do to make sure that’s going to happen.”

In other campaign-related news:

— Jesse Jackson’s Dec. 11 threat of a “civil rights explosion” and of civil disobedience to “delegitimize” Bush has come under fire from Republican congressional leaders, according to The Washington Times. After the justices’ Dec. 12 action, Jackson compared the high court’s decision with the Dred Scott ruling, the 1857 opinion that said blacks were not citizens, The Times reported.

“I think it is irresponsible,” said Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, according to The Times. “I think that language, in my opinion, is too strong for the difficulty our nation finds itself in right now.” Watts is black.

— More than 250 activist organizations have endorsed a movement to protest the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, according to documents posted on the International Action Center’s website. Police in Washington are said to be preparing for possible trouble by drawing up plans to deputize nearly 1,000 officers from surrounding counties so that extra law personnel might be on hand to quash any violent eruptions.

“The recent election highlighted that racist disenfranchisement of voters is a routine factor in U.S. politics. We will protest against all manifestations of racism, racial profiling and disenfranchisement,” said a statement from the International Action Center, a New York-based activist organization whose members have spent the past days soliciting the aid of interest groups for the planned inaugural protest.

— An effort is under way to oust Florida’s Supreme Court justices. Calling the actions of the Florida Supreme Court “overly partisan and activist,” a new organization promises to change the makeup of the state’s highest court so that it “better represents the views of the people of Florida.” The “Balance to the Bench” group’s first target is Justice Harry Lee Anstead, who has sided with Gore on most of the issues before the Florida court and is up for retention in 2002. Florida’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but confirmed by the voters every six years.

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  • Todd Starnes & Tom Strode